Tuesday, 19 November 2013

How Not to Respond to a Crisis

Philippine President Benigno Aquino tends to smile throughout a crisis
Last night as I was on the treadmill on the gym, I turned to BBC and watched a reporter interview Philippine President Benigno Aquino where he was on the ground at a town called Guiuan handing out supplies to victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

While he was smiling at them, all these people wanted was aid and didn't seem to care Aquino was personally handing it to them.

The reporter asked Aquino why it had taken so long for aid to get to stricken areas as people in Tacloban had complained they had not received any food or water for over a week.

His response? Aquino retorted that the journalist should instead ask the first responders in Tacloban this question.

My jaw just dropped to the floor.

He could have explained how it was really difficult to reach remote areas, that roads were destroyed or that vehicles couldn't get through, that the aid workers were doing the best they could to reach the victims and that things were now getting better.

Instead he seemed to want to shift the blame to others, that it was up to the local governments to provide aid and the national government would provide backup.


And he seemed contrite as he explained this to the journalist, smiling as he criticized some towns for not doing enough compared to others in the relief efforts. Perhaps it was because they weren't as heavily damaged, whereas others had no clue where to begin?

Today I asked some Philippine nationals in Hong Kong what they thought of Aquino's remarks last night.

One was shocked, saying the president should bear more responsibility for the situation. The Filipino added when the Hong Kong tourists were held hostage and killed on the tour bus in August 2010, Aquino should not have been smiling while he acknowledged the situation. He should have at least looked more serious in front of the cameras, he said. He wondered aloud if Aquino would be re-elected.

Another I asked said over the phone that politically she didn't know what to say, and instead she would focus on donating to the relief efforts. She seemed embarrassed by Aquino and didn't want to criticize him in front of someone who was not from the Philippines.

Aquino has also tried to play down the number of dead. A few days ago he claimed it was around 2,500, much less than the estimate of 10,000. However it is now just under 4,000 and counting.

Meanwhile China has been sneered at for its pathetic offers of aid. At first it donated a paltry sum of $100,000 which has now increased with an addition $1.64 million which compares to $20 million by the United States, $10 million from Japan including troops and supplies, and $28 million from Australia. Even Ikea gave $2.7 million, Coca-Cola pledged $2.5 million.

Hong Kong finally did its bit with $5.16 million, but not without being miserly about still expecting the Philippines to apologize about the Manilla shooting incident...

It's interesting to see how people and governments react in times of crises...

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